Monday, February 03, 2014

God's android army

[James Anderson] “Indeed, it’s a strange model of divine infallibility that hangs on the divine decree counterfactually tracking the libertarian-free choices of human agents. You might as well say that a train infallibly decrees its destination because it necessarily follows its tracks. If a junction gets switched, no problem, because that only means the train decreed a different station!” 
[Greg Welty] This would be a good analogy, if the agents were actual the way the tracks and junction are actual. As you know, nothing creaturely is actual when God makes his decree. God isn’t ‘tracking’ any *actual* creaturely choices. If you want to talk about a Molinist train, the fact that there are any tracks or junction switches at all is due to the choice of the train at the outset. The train doesn’t ‘necessarily follow’ anything. As you can see, such a Molinist train isn’t much of an analogy to a real train.

I have two problems with Greg's response:

i) I don't see how the distinction between possible and actual agents is germane here. Although, at this (divinely) prevolitional stage, we're talking about possible agents, they are like actual agents insofar as their hypothetical choices are autonomous in relation to God. What they would do if put in a given situation is beyond God's control. So that places an actual constraint on God's field of action. In that respect, they might as well be real. At the salient level of comparison, I think your analogy holds. 

ii) Let's shift metaphors. It's as if God inherited an army of androids. Each android has its own autonomous program. Each android has a different program. 

God didn't program the androids. God has no control over their programming. God can't reprogram them. 

But God has indirect control over the outcome. At this stage, all the androids are offline. God can decide which android to turn on. If God doesn't want what a particular android would do, he can prevent that by not flipping the on-switch. 

Likewise, if God desires a particular outcome, and there's an android whose stochastic programming, if put in that situation, will facilitate that outcome, then God can control the outcome by choosing an android which will, of its own volition, do what God wants in that situation. 

But God is limited to what the androids are preset to do. There are outcomes God can't bring about unless there happens to be an android with a program that's matches the desired outcome. No such android may be available, in which case God can't bring about that outcome. The individual programs of the individual androids dictates what God is able to do with them. 

(A Molinist might object that a preset android lacks libertarian freedom. That's why I say their programming is stochastic. But in any case, the objection misses the point of my analogy. I'm simply using that metaphor to illustrate how the agent is independent of God. Free in relation to God.) 

iii) The Molinist God is not omnipotent. There are fundamental factors beyond his control. He's not the source of the possibilities from which he makes his selection. He can't even instantiate some possibilities. He's a downsized God. Greater than Zeus but less than Yahweh. A middling God. 

iv) For the sake of argument, I'm granting Molinist postulates. But, of course, Molinism suffers from internal tensions. As one philosopher notes:

I suppose that in some sense Freddoso’s contention is correct, since Molinism—in particular, the theory of middle knowledge—provides a picture or story in which the two claims could be true, if the sceptical worry can be answered. But the theory of middle knowledge in itself provides no answer to the sceptic; that is, it does not even seek to explain how the can- claim is compatible with the backtracker. Rather, it takes the compatibility of these claims for granted. It is thus at best ancillary to an answer to the incompatibilist, and it piggybacks on such an answer. Thus, the theory of middle knowledge is not in itself an answer to the basic thrust of the incompatibilst’s argument. 
To explain. On the theory of middle knowledge, God has prevolitional knowledge of a large set of conditionals specifying how individuals would freely behave in various circumstances: ‘If in circumstance C1, agent A would freely do X ’ ‘If in circumstance C 2, agent A would freely do Y ’, and so forth. These conditionals are supposed to be simply ‘given’ in the sense that they are true prior to any decree by God as to which possible world will be actualized. But note that it is an assumption shared by Molina and Freddoso that acting freely implies freedom to do otherwise. So, on the theory of middle knowledge, conditional truths of the form, ‘If agent A were in circumstance C1, he would be free to do other than he actually does (X), or ‘If agent A were in circumstance C2, he would be free to do other than what he actually does (Y )’ are simply assumed to be knowable by God prior to the relevant times (the times of the actions). Thus, it at least appears that the theory of middle knowledge simply presupposes that God’s foreknowledge is compatible with human freedom to do otherwise! 
The theory of middle knowledge does not answer the incompatibilist’s sceptical argument from the fixity of the past. The theory of middle knowledge does not even attempt to explain how the pertinent can-claims can be consistent with their paired backtracking counditionals. In assuming that God can know the conditionals in question, the theory of middle knowledge appears to be taking for granted the very question at issue in the debate between the compatibilist and the incompatibilist: it appears to be assuming that human agents can so act that the past would have been different from what it actually was.

v) In addition to the classic tension between divine omniscience and libertarian freedom, Molinism aggravates that tension inasmuch as the human agents in question don't even exist! Yet God supposedly knows what these nonentities would do. As Arminian philosopher Jerry Walls opines, "how God could know the actual free choices of possible creatures who will never exist?"

(That's not a problem for Calvinism, for what they would do is the result of what God would predestine them to do.) 

So Molinism is a type of finite theism. A God who's limited in knowledge and power. 

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